In Sommerset Maugham’s Human Bondage the young Phillip one day musters courage to ask Monsieur Foinet if he truly has the talent to continue painting. The master generously studies Phillip’s sketches. Eventually Foinet says, “You will never be anything but mediocre.” However, he rushes to assure the young boy that the advice is well-meant: “I would give all I have in the world if someone had given me that advice when I was your age.”

Rochelle Potkar’s ‘Strings’ examines, among other things, the crushing realization of an absence of greatness. Histories, dysfunctional families and patriarchal expectations add their weight to already burdened characters. However, Potkar’s poems appear to structurally break out of these oppressions. The poems move around the page in interesting ways; the lines try to overcome the constraints of their own meanings. This form appears to echo the characters trying to escape their fates. This tug of war, between semantics and structures lends a poignant energy to Potkar’s pieces. It is entirely apt that one of them should be called ‘Art Installation’.

— Pervin Saket
The Bombay Literary Magazine

Art Installation

Six walls of a traditional house,
four for patriarchism.

And old men who hate women of confidence,
English speaking – fast and cunning, 
who go to the bank, the airport,
making bouquets from spades, sugar from shards,
holding golden bars of golden cages
clanging steel cymbals not utensils

blue & white crockery down the aisles
thunder queens -- quietening rooms without words.

When the crockery cupboard empties,
the modern man erects a door 

between the floors.

Conjecture of partition.
Borders of glacial gasps.

New crockery fills in.

The old man now seethes over a bitter future 
stopping his tongue 
as the door sways with no latches or bolts 

his grandchildren returning to their cacophonous play dough,
under filaments of silence.

As the door hinges 
to the wind,

modern men and women 
return to their battles, 
upturning Sisyphean stones
stacked all around them
from centuries,
brim after     




The only thing Shalom remembered with his last breath, 
was his violin stolen at a Berlin concert.

Stradivari’s 960 violins - one surviving the ocean-blues
A Stradivarius located in Chor Bazaar, shor bazaar
legend states if you lose anything – 
like Queen Victoria sailing to Bombay, 
you will… find it there.

Son Solomon makes a trip to Mumbai’s middlemen.

But the violin is gone.
A lady has taken off, just minutes ago...
Solomon finds her address.             Dhobi Talao.

Mrs. Dias’ husband Frederick
played the violin when young,
before his father forced him into the 9-5’s. 
unburnt talent     : burning bodies
Frederick bought a plane ticket
to watch Shalom.
It could have been him
                              thirty-five years ago
when he entered the green room, 
downplaying the fiddle to the confines of his jacket. 

Hollow wooden body resting between chin and chest 
a scar ensconced suture-like across his neck
to the empty cough of lung and rib
with nothing to buy medicines, 
Mrs. Dias sells old junk.

The non-artist son of a virtuoso understands this:
core of lost dreams, non-inheritance of genes, disapproved childhood
while his sister Greta is the maestro, protégé.

Solomon keeps the violin back to Frederick’s chest.
When Greta hears of it, she yells
You don’t understand a thing
about an artist’s life…While the non-artist
son wonders 
if she understands
                a thing
                    about life. 


Photo Credit : Suhit Kelkar

Rochelle Potkar

Fictionist | Poet | Critic | Curator | Editor | Translator | Screenwriter
Widely-anthologized and award-winning, Rochelle Potkar is the author of three books of poetry and a story collection Bombay Hangovers. Her poetry film Skirt features on Shonda Rhimes’ Shondaland.

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